Camas eyes retail marijuana ban — with a sunset clause

Land use issues will now be discussed by planning commission

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Camas community development department staff will move forward with planning efforts that could lead to a City Council vote to amend city land use codes banning recreational marijuana retail sales for a period of time. Discussion during last night’s workshop also focused on implementing zoning rules that would prohibit marijuana production and processing within city limits.

City Administrator Pete Capell said a ban with a sunset clause ranging from two to three years would provide time for some of the issues surrounding legalized marijuana to be addressed.

“One of the benefits to that particular route is that after the sunset, many of the challenges that have been addressed from the state and some of the operational questions will have been answered by local jurisdictions who have authorized marijuana sales, manufacturing and growing,” he said. “In addition, the current lawsuits would have gone through the court system to give us much better information. Then, a future council would revisit this issue and they would be able to make a much more informed decision as many of these things have worked through the process.

“This decision would not impact state law,” Capell continued. “People would still be able to use medical and recreational marijuana in Camas, in accordance with state law. Residents of Camas will have access to retail stores in close proximity, including the city of Vancouver.”

The proposed Camas land use code amendments will be discussed again. The issue will first go to the Camas Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing, and then to the Camas City Council for another public hearing, discussion and a decision. A current moratorium implemented earlier this year expires Oct. 21.

“The idea is not to have an extended moratorium,” clarified Assistant City Attorney David Schultz. “The idea is for the council to make a decision one way or another.”

Councilman Steve Hogan said each segment of the legalized marijuana issue — production, processing and retail — must be looked at individually.

“The two industry segments that scare me the most are production and processing,” he said. “In terms of the sunset, I would propose that we not have a sunset. Have that [ban] last until something overwhelming comes back at us in the future.”

Hogan said he would be in favor of putting a time limit on the prohibition of retail marijuana businesses.

“If we were to go down the road of ‘no,’ my opinion would be that a sunset would probably be a good idea,” he said. “That would be the most likely one where a future council might want to change the decision.”

Councilwoman Melissa Smith said she could support a retail marijuana ban, but preferred a shorter sunset time period.

“It’s going to happen, one way or another, I really don’t care,” Smith said. “We could let the moratorium run out and let [a retail store] open up, or implement the ban with a sunset.”

Councilman Tim Hazen was part of a group of Camas officials that recently toured New Vansterdam, a retail pot shop that opened in July on East Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver. The event was arranged by Marc Elkins and Paul Gardner, owners of Elkgard Enterprises and the winners of the Washington State Liquor Control Board lottery for the one available retail marijuana license in Camas city limits.

“It helped me to understand what it is going to look like and how it is going to be operated, and what is the potential impact on the neighborhood,” Hazen said of the tour. “I went away impressed. It’s a business. It’s a regulated business and it looks like it’s pretty well protected.”

Hazen said he’s “pro-business,” but struggles with some of the negative impacts a retail marijuana establishment could have on the city.

“I think that we need to see these stores operating under full capacity and having an inventory that allows them to be open seven days a week, and then we see what is really going to be the impact on the neighborhood and the overall community,” he said. “During that period, we are going to be getting a greater understanding of the legislature and what their position is going to be on it. I could support a ban. I struggled with it though, because I want to see business thrive.”

Elkins spoke to the City Council during the public comment period.

“We are going to do this right, if given the opportunity. We’ve studied the law thoroughly,” he said. “We’ll do everything with an emphasis on safety, as it has been dictated by the state. We’ll be a new type of liquor store, essentially, doing our part to collect taxes for the state and create jobs and other businesses around us.”

If Elkins and Gardner eventually open a retail store in Camas, it would be located in a space they lease at 319 N.E. Lechner St., near the city’s border with Washougal.

“Already a store has applied for a license to do business right next to us in anticipation of additional traffic,” Elkins said. “We could be a catalyst to attract business to this portion of both towns. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to not have a single retail space that wasn’t open and thriving in that area? Let us be that catalyst.

“We’re professional, we’re prepared, and we’re more than willing to be good partners to the city of Camas and the citizens at large,” he added.